Exploring the Garden Route

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Where I stayed
Jembjos Knysna Lodge & Backpackers
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

While in Cape Town, Tymaree, Andre, Jesse and myself planned to travel along the garden route together for a few days as Tymaree and Andre were going to rent a car. A last minute invitation to Ursula was a true "the more the merrier" statement and so glad she said yes. With this change of plans and not enough for five plus bags in the car, I moved back to my original mode of transportation, the Baz Bus(www.BazBus.com)  which is a hop-on/hop-off backpackers bus and the four of them crammed into the car and off we went to Knysna, a main hub within the Garden Route which is an area within the Western Cape consisting of beaches, bays, cliffs and rocky capes with pounding surf on one side and mountains on the other.

Patience must be had when using hop-on/hop-off buses because aside from multiple stops to pick everyone up before you even start on your journey.  Then of course there are multiple stops to drop off and pick up people along the way.  Nevertheless, I had my patience with me and it was a great way to see a lot of the places along the Garden Route that I had read about, and wondered if I should go. Being able to drive around each area (Mossel Bay, George, and Wilderness) was enough to get a sense to know I'm not missing too much with the exception of maybe Wilderness, a small seaside town surrounded by the Wilderness National Park that looked beautiful.

Despite the fact there is a bus timetable, with all the drop off and picks up, we were quickly behind schedule by about half an hour.  Which is not too bad until we got to George, and the driver realized he was going to have more passengers then seats.  Because no one fussed up to not booking a seat, he had to call head office and it took an hour to get it sorted it out.  Meanwhile we all knew who the culprit was, a charming but crazy fun loving Israeli, who technically did book a seat but changed his destination point from George to Wilderness after making his booking.  So we made him sit on the floor of the bus and gave him a hard time all the way to Wilderness, which he really seemed to enjoy.

Finally making it to Knysna about 2 hours late, I was so happy to be greeted by Mandy, co-owner of Jembjo’s Knysna Lodge (www.jembjosknysnalodge.co.a).  She was so welcoming and within minutes of showing me where the five of us would be sleeping, I was in the backyard having a beer and her partner Karl was offering to braai for us that night and drive me to the grocery store to buy food.  Not knowing where the rest of my “gang” was I rang them up to find out if they were interested.  A quick “yes, we will be there in an hour” put the plan into place. Karl did an excellent job on our chicken and it was a fun night just to hang out.

Easing into a day is something we have not done in a long while, so the next morning we took our time in the morning and strolled over to the waterfront area for a little looksee and a real cup of coffee.  The looksee turned into some shopping where I got some really comfy pants and skirt and a much needed sweater, and over coffee we decided we would go next door for lunch.  Old habits die hard and after lunch we turned it up a notch and decide to hike to the Heads, the point in Knysna where the ocean comes inland to the Knysna  river.  While getting ready, Karl offered to drive us there and then we could walk back to which we asked how long it would take and he said “about 40 minutes” which to us was nothing so we said thanks but we will walk there and back.  His raised eyebrows gave us good sense to take his card and his offer that he could come pick us up. 

Off we went and walked and walked and walked at a good pace I will say, and an hour and 45 minutes later we made it to the top of the heads.  There were many a beautiful multi-million dollar homes here understandable so based on the views.   Once we recovered from making it to the top, Karl definitely got a call and he came and picked us up about a half hour later after we walked down to the lower viewing point.  Upon picking us up, we told him how long it took to walk it and there is no way it takes someone 40 minutess, to which he responded “well no one staying at Jembjo’s has ever walked it before!”  Our response was  “next time you can honestly answer the question to whoever asks and please takes us to Scirocco’s as we have beer to drink and oysters to eat” to which he had no problem doing. 

Scirocco’s was a recommendation from Mandy and Karl as they have a R25 beer tasting of various brews from the local brewery Mitchell’s, fresh oysters and an amazing view of the sunset. We got there a little too late to get an optimum viewing table but found the next best and put in our order.  Not sure if it was being tired from our walk, the beer or the oysters or the combination of all three but we all got the giggles and had many a laugh over trying to impersonate each other’s accents; Ursula to our amazement providing the most entertainment in this department.  Definitely another good sundowner session to add to the many we’ve had in Africa.

The next day we headed out to the Knysna forest were we did a 9km hike covering many a hill and valley, stream in search for the big tree known as King Edward and stands at 46m tall. 7m in circumference and estimated to be over 700 years old. Impressive for sure and we saw a close second before actually seeing the King Edward convincing ourselves that 'it’ was the big tree.  But when we came across the King Edward with fence and signage we quickly realized we were mistaken.  We knew the tree was near the end of the hike and were hopefully on seeing the first tree that our hike was nearly over as it was getting quite hot. And it was, just off by about a kilometer.  After a picnic lunch we drove over to Plettenberg Bay (affectionately known as “Plett”) to check out how beautiful it is said to be.  The bay went on for miles and it was indeed beautiful but not sure it’s worthy of staying a night or two which I had originally planned to do. A visit and dinner on the beach was a good second option. 

An hour back to Knysna,  a quick pit stop to change clothes and we were out to try and catch some of the Knysna nightlife that we had been hearing about.  Apparently there is one but we couldn’t find it.  Admittedly it was a Wednesday and the weather wasn’t great but we did go to the number one place, Zanzibar, and apart from a few folks coming in for a drink and leaving, we were the only people there for pretty much the entire night.  Pretty sad and so much so that after a few hours the bar staff tried to convince us to join them at some other place so they could close for the night. We thanked them for the offer but decided to call it a night strolling home through the rolled up streets of Knysna.

Next morning was a nice and relaxing one with a coffee and bakery run, but a sad one as we were saying goodbye to Ursula who was going to head back to Cape Town by bus.  Once we saw her off, Tymree, Andre, Jesse and me hopped in the car to head for Port Elizabeth with pit stops at Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma and Jeffreys Bay.  When we arrived the weather was starting to match the name “Storm”.  It was cloudy, grey and misting but not bad enough to take the walk to the suspension bridge.  It  was a beautiful walk and knocked the cobwebs out of some of us from the night before due in part to the long sets of stairs we had to tackle down and then up on the way back. Crossing the suspension bridges was definitely not for the faint at heart.  They indeed have quite a bounce and swing to them and coupled with the wind gusts it was more than “a walk in the park”.  Returning to “base” we had a quick lunch before heading to Jeffreys Bay to catch the factory outlet surf shops while they were still open. 

The factory outlets and Jeffreys Bay both were a bit of a disappointment in our eyes.  There weren’t many deals to be had though Jesse, a surf shop guru, found the few bargains to be had and Tymaree and Andre snagged a new bag that was much need to get their stuff home as well as replacement flip flops and few shirts for Andre. Ok so maybe it was just me that was disappointed….not really.  As for the town, it seemed very much like a has-been surfing town.  However in talking with others along the way this is not the case. But then they are surfers and we are not, so there you go.

Final stop of the day was Port Elizabeth which was also a disappointment but a knowingly one though I held out hope. It is truly an industrial town and our choice for accommodation, the Lungile Backpackers was not as described in both location and vibe of the place.  But we made the best of it and when the search for a grocery store to buy food to make dinner failed, we instead got take away pizza to go with a bottle of wine from our wine tour that Tymaree and Andre graciously shared.  This was our last night together as a foursome with Jesse and I heading on the Baz Bus to Coffee Bay in the Eastern Cape, and Tymaree and Andre heading up to Addo Elephant Park and other places before meeting up with me again in Durban.

I know I really lucked out by being able to experience Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Storms River and Jeffreys Bay with some great friends and the fact that we had a car made it all the more enjoyable.  Had I been here by myself I don’t think I would have been able to experience half of the things I did in the last four days as I would have been carless.  So a big thank you Tymaree and Andre, for sharing your car with Jesse, Ursula and myself.
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